Planning For Independence

 Family Studies


Family studies provides students with opportunities to understand the role of the family in society. Students develop self-confidence, interpersonal skills, and the awareness they will need to function well in a family and to manage their family lives in today's rapidly changing world (see Ontario, Ministry of Education, Family Studies, Intermediate and Senior Divisions, 1987, p. 4). Students may also be provided with opportunities to understand the rights and responsibilities of family members, to appreciate differing lifestyles and cultural backgrounds, and to develop personal values about family goals and beliefs. On the more practical side, students may learn skills in nutrition, meal preparation, clothing care, house maintenance, and management of household finances.

A primary objective of education for students with developmental disabilities is preparation for living in the community as independently as possible. The attainment of this objective requires long-term joint planning by the home and the school. The program should emphasize both the interpersonal skills necessary for living independently (or in a small family group) and the practical skills required for managing one's personal and domestic life.

Teaching practical domestic skills is important for several reasons. By enabling students to attain independence in key domestic areas, these skills enhance self-esteem and freedom and increase students' acceptance by the community. The ability to perform certain domestic tasks may also open up career opportunities.

Elementary-school children learn many of these skills through play and through natural exploration of their environment. Playing "house", helping with chores at home or school, and experimenting with cooking and tasting are only a few examples. An integrated approach can combine language arts, mathematics, and cooking in one thematic unit. Education about nutrition can be part of an environmental studies program. Children with disabilities can be included in these programs naturally, working in small groups with non-disabled peers. Additional practice in certain skills can be provided in a special-class setting,

Intermediate and Senior Division students can participate in family studies programs. Where it is feasible and appropriate to do so, students can be integrated into the community school with the support of other students or educational assistants. However, because these students may require more time than other students do to acquire the skills they need to function domestically on their own, it is probably unrealistic to expect that their participation in a secondary school family studies class in itself will provide them with sufficient practice. Additional training sessions or reinforcement may be required in the classroom or at home. There is evidence that students with challenging needs will have more chance of success if skills are taught in the natural environment.

At this level it is essential to plan for students in close cooperation with a parent or other person from the home. It is important to identify skills that are functional for a student's present and future environments, that are used frequently during the day or week, and that are needed immediately. Selected skills should also be socially relevant and age appropriate. In addition to such tasks as cooking a meal, cleaning a room, or doing laundry, students must learn a cluster of related communication and social skills. They must also be made aware of safety factors.

The Planning Cycle

<>Assessment and Development

In the first two phases of the planning cycle, educators need to:

  • identify the skills that students need most in order to function more independently at home;
  • involve students' parents in the long- and short-term planning for future living arrangements;
  • identify students' motor, cognitive, and communicative abilities and assess their competence at domestic tasks in order to determine areas that require instruction;
  • identify support services (e.g., physiotherapists, volunteers) required to implement training;
  • plan the modification of equipment (e.g., adaptation of devices for cutting) or the curriculum (e.g., creation of pictorial recipes) to facilitate students' full or partial participation;
  • identify hazards (e.g., sharp knives, poisonous cleaning products);
  • identify skills that represent career possibilities.

Implementation and Evaluation

In the last two phases of the planning cycle, educators need to:

  • teach skills in the context in which they are typically performed, if possible (e.g., cooking in a kitchen at home or school rather than in a simulated environment);
  • involve other students, if that is possible, in modelling, social interaction, and tutoring;
  • ask parents to co-operate by allowing students to practise their skills at home;
  • provide adapted equipment for students with physical disabilities, to increase independence;
  • modify equipment and materials for non-readers (e.g., use colour cues or pictorial symbols on stoves, or recipes with simplified language and pictorial cues);
  • provide practice in recognizing the warning symbols used on household products;
  • provide opportunities for natural social interaction during activities;
  • review and evaluate skills acquisition in various environments (e.g., doing laundry at home, at school, and at a laundromat).


Ontario. Ministry of Education. Family Studies, Intermediate and Senior Divisions and OAC. Curriculum Guideline. Toronto: Ministry of Education, Ontario, 1987.

_____. Personal Life Management, Intermediate and Senior Divisions. Curriculum Guideline. Toronto: Ministry of Education, Ontario, 1985.

Ontario. Ministry of Education and Ministry of Energy. Clothing, Shelter, and Energy. Curriculum Ideas for Teachers. Toronto: Ministry of Education, Ontario, 1980.

Case Study - Elementary Level

Student Profile Thirteen-year-old Luigi has multiple disabilities. He is visually impaired and can distinguish shapes and light and dark objects at a distance. He can see colours and smaller objects if they are held within thirty centimetres of his eyes. It is difficult for him to function in his environment because of his visual impairment. He feeds himself with a spoon and attends to his toileting needs but requires considerable help with dressing. Luigi communicates with gestures and high-pitched grunts. He follows directions spoken in short, concrete sentences. His parents want him to become more independent in caring for himself at home.

Learning Environment Luigi attends a small, selfcontained class in his community school. He requires individualized help from an adult or friend to perform the expected tasks.

Expected Learning Outcomes Luigi is expected to:

  • assist in laundering the towels after the swimming program;
  • with the help of a Grade 8 buddy, choose appropriate clothes and care for them;
  • learn to sort his clothes for laundering and to fold and put them away when they are clean.

Student Program Luigi is being provided with opportunities to:

  • develop concepts of similarity and difference by sorting and matching clothing (e.g., by type, colour, texture);
  • extend his vocabulary and expand his gestures through activities related to sorting clothing (see the preceding activity);
  • respond with appropriate actions to directions given orally in two- and three-word phrases;
  • develop the ability to recognize his own clothing and various kinds of clothing in general (e.g., socks, underwear, sweaters) by deciphering both visual and tactile clues;
  • refine the fine-motor skills involved in picking up and releasing clothes, folding clothes, opening dresser drawers, and hanging up clean clothes;
  • extend his independence by hand washing items of clothing and helping to operate the washer and dryer.

Case Study - Secondary Level

Student Profile Nora is eighteen years old, has good self-care and speaking skills, and has a large vocabulary. She tells time accurately, can do computation to 20, and travels to school on her own. She enjoys cooking and is able to make several simple recipes. She is about nine kilograms overweight and would like to lose weight.

Learning Environment Nora attends a special class in a local secondary school. She is integrated into a Grade 10 family studies program in which the focus is on food preparation and nutrition. She is paired with a peer for support in reading recipes and preparing food. She also prepares meals at home.

Expected Learning Outcomes Nora is expected to:

  • learn to prepare several well-balanced meals independently, using adapted recipes;
  • apply her cooking skills at home by preparing simple meals;
  • participate in a weight-loss program based on sound nutritional principles.

Student Program Nora is being provided with opportunities to:

  • increase her vocabulary about nutrition (learning such terms as proteins, carbohydrates, food groups, calories) and about food preparation (frill, fry, bake, whip, litre, gram) in the context of cooking;
  • read key words in adapted pictorial recipes (e.g., names of ingredients and utensils, preparation terms);
  • prepare shopping lists of ingredients, personalized recipe cards, or descriptions of meals she has learned to make;
  • grow in self-esteem through such positive experiences as interacting with peers while cooking, participating in a discussion of weight loss or nutrition, and working co-operatively with a partner she has chosen;
  • learn about weight control and how to lose weight through dieting and exercise, and participate in school and community fitness classes;
  • develop appropriate mathematics concepts such as units of measurement and simple fractions;
  • determine appropriate oven temperature and length of time required for cooking or baking;
  • learn to chart her weight loss.

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